Friday, August 7, 2015

Climb the Tower and Fight God

Blaugust Day 7

In my last post I used the phrase "climb the tower and fight god" to describe the plot of Prey. I'm not sure where I heard first heard it, maybe it was on The closest things I've managed to find to describe this phrase are "The Tower" trope and "It's All Upstairs from Here" trope. Climbing the tower and fighting god is a bit more specific than that. The story doesn't just take place in a tower, it's about scaling a tower for the purpose of defeating it master, creator, or unknown controller. This is not to be confused with the Tower of Babel, a story wherein God destroys a tower that came too close to the heavens.

I stated that it was a familiar plot and that's true. Once I started thinking about it I couldn't stop seeing it in video games like Prey, The Tower of Druaga, and probably the most literal example of this trope, Shadow of Colossus. If you look outside of video games you will continue to see it in other media such as Dragon Ball when Goku climbed Korin Tower, or the movie Snowpiercer if you tilt your head. If you skew the idea and move into metaphor territory you can see "climb a building and fight the boss" used in a similar manner in games like Streets of Rage, Devil May Cry 3, or even Super Mario 64. The first two games have you climbing a building and the third has you climbing a mountain, only to reach the top and kick the king off of it.

The purpose of making the climb and fighting its ruler varies. Sometimes the primary motivation is to rescue a loved one or a princess, and the only way to accomplish this is by fighting a deity. Sometimes the goal is to stop the all-powerful being from wrong-doing, with an underlying assumption that the hero will replace them. Sometimes the protagonist is just looking for an ass kicking. The tower itself provides a nice visual representation of both progress and imagery. If you are on 30th floor of a 60 floor tower, it's safe to assume you've made it half way there. To climb a tower that reaches the heavens is to defy the gods and their will. Also, it makes for some fantastic platforming. So with that in mind I'd like to share a few lesser known games that fit this formula.

Tower of Heaven (Windows PC and Flash) by Askiisoft

I might've come up with this topic just to write about this game. Tower of Heaven is a hardcore 2D platformer. It starts simple and gradually you receive more laws from above to obey. If you don't follow the rules you are smited instantly. Despite the increasingly restrictive laws you continue to climb the tower and anger God. One of the most notable things about Tower of Heaven is its green monochromatic graphics and chiptune music meant to resemble the Game Boy's own. You can download it for free or play it in your browser but be warned, it is addictive and brutally difficult. Still, it is a must play for Game Boy fans and masochistic gamers.

Pandora's Tower (Wii) by Ganbarion

Pandora's Tower is one of three Wii games published by Nintendo and released in Japan but with no plan of bringing them to North America. At the time the Wii was getting a handful of first-party games and a ton of shovelware. This didn't sit well with Wii owners. They started a project called Operation Rainfall to bring Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora's Tower to North America. They succeeded in getting Nintendo to bring over Xenoblade Chronicles, and XSEED Games localized The Last Story and Pandora's Tower within a year. It was a great year for Wii gamers. Getting back to the point, Pandora's Tower has you play as the hero Aeron who must take the princess Alena to the Scar. The Scar is a giant hell pit that is bound closed by a cluster of floating towers. Each tower has its own deity or "Master." Alena has been cursed and the only way to stop her from turning into a beast is to feed her the hearts of each tower's Master. It's a touching story. I admit that part of why it moved me is because the characters say my name, which I've never experienced in a video game before (Aeron is pronounced "Aaron"). Watching Alena struggle as the curse deforms her body made me really sympathize with her and motivated me to slay the Masters regardless of the outcome. I recommend Pandora's Tower to people who enjoyed Shadow of the Colossus since it has similar themes and gameplay.

Lost in Shadow (Wii) by Hudson Soft

I promise this is the last mention of Wii games. At the beginning of Lost in Shadow you see the protagonist locked in the stocks at the top of the tower. You see an executioner lift a mysterious blunt object overhead and swing down. The video cuts to your shadow falling down the tower, all the way to the bottom. This is a 2D platformer set in a 3D world. You are the protagonist's shadow and can only walk on other shadows. This doesn't make you safe from the physical world. On the contrary two shadows coming together can crush you, insect shadows are magnified, and previous lost shadows haunt the tower! You climb the tower in the hopes of merging back with your body. To guide you through the tower you have a fairy-like helper that can affect the world in minor ways and manipulate light to some degree in certain areas. This is controlled with the Wiimote. There is a lot of giant machinery put there for some unknown purpose, but for you it creates a lot of switch puzzles and precision platforming. Lost in Shadow makes great use of negative space and the scenery is enchanting. It was one of the last games developed by Hudson Soft before they shut down. If you're looking for a game to add to your Wii collection you won't go wrong with Lost in Shadow. It can be found for a fair price in most places.

inFAMOUS (PS3) by Sucker Punch

Yet another second-party title, this time published by Sony for the PS3. It was a big deal that inFAMOUS was being developed specifically for the console's hardware. It's an actual 3D platformer, not some context dependent, quick-time movie. You play as Cole, an average city dweller. When the game starts Cole wakes up in the center of a leveled neighborhood with memories of his body exploding. The city has gone under lock down and anarchy now rules. There is a jagged tower that can be seen from anywhere in the city, and if you're like me you just gotta climb it. Fortunately, late into the game you do just that: climb the tower made from garbage to steal a powerful object and fight the person controlling it. And since this is a good 3D platformer it has you climbing the outside surface. If you fall off the tower you actually fall to the ground and start over again. Once you get to the top a pretty intense battle takes place. I know this is just a small part of the game, but it really stuck out to me. And sure, inFAMOUS is a best seller and has gone one to inspire two sequels that overshadowed it, but it's a PS3 exclusive that tends to get overlooked. It's one of the games that convinced me to buy a PS3 and I have fond memories of it.

That's four modern games that have you climb the tower and fight god that flew under the radar. I think this type of game appeals to me because it's easier for me to process information when I can visibly see it, and tower climbing does just that. If my blog posts have told you anything it's that I root for the underdog. Who doesn't like to see a character go against the gods and come out victorious? Even if they lose you're in for an entertaining story. Are there any gems about celestial uprising that you've enjoyed? Let me know below.
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